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Abe to dissolve lower house Thurs. for general election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, is pictured at a special meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Board on Sept. 25, 2017. Sitting on the left is LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, and on the far right is party Vice President Masahiko Komura. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting of his Liberal Democratic Party on Monday that he will dissolve the House of Representatives when it convenes Thursday, a senior LDP member said, paving the way for a general election expected in late October.

    The prime minister is scheduled to hold a press conference at 6 p.m., at which he is expected to formally announce the dissolution.

    Abe, who is the president of the ruling LDP, will seek a fresh mandate on his security polices amid growing North Korean threats as well as on welfare, pledging to review how to spend revenue from a consumption tax hike in 2019 for expanding child support and slow down the pace of paying down government debt.

    The election is to be held on Oct. 22 with official campaigning beginning Oct. 10, Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, told reporters after a meeting with Abe on Monday afternoon.

    Yamaguchi said he had not discussed with Abe a specific goal for the election, but they "would need to at least secure a majority as the ruling coalition in order to maintain this administration."

    Before speaking to LDP executives and Yamaguchi, Abe told a meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy he plans to launch a 2 trillion yen ($17.8 billion) economic plan, centering on free preschool education and other social support.

    Abe said the tax hike revenue will be used to fund that plan, but insisted the government will look to rebuild the country's finances at the same time.

    Opposition parties have criticized Abe's expected decision, arguing there is no reason for an early dissolution of the lower chamber before the current term expires in December 2018 and describing the move as an attempt to avoid grilling over cronyism allegations leveled at the prime minister in Diet deliberations.

    But Komeito's Yamaguchi defended the call, saying after his meeting with Abe that the decision to use the consumption tax hike revenue in a different way than originally promised justifies renewing the administration's mandate from the public.

    The Democratic Party and other opposition parties have started advancing their preparation for the election, exploring the possibility of promoting electoral cooperation to counter the ruling bloc.

    Shortly before Abe told LDP members of his dissolution plan, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said she is establishing a new national-level political party called the "Kibo" (Hope) party.

    Her announcement put an end to weeks of speculation about the outcome of negotiations between Masaru Wakasa, an independent lower house lawmaker and ally to Koike, and defectors from other parties, including Goshi Hosono, a former environment minister who recently left the Democratic Party.

    Koike, who was herself a Diet member with the LDP before running for governor, indicated the new party will field candidates nationwide. She said she will continue her gubernatorial duties alongside the party's activities.

    Japanese voters will be given two ballots: one for a candidate in their electoral district, and one proportional representation vote with which parties elect members off lists divided into regional blocks.

    Asked in a Kyodo News nationwide poll over the weekend which party would get their proportional representation vote, 27.0 percent said the LDP, 8.0 percent said the Democratic Party and 4.6 percent said Komeito.

    Some 42.2 percent said they have yet to decide which party to vote for, while 6.2 percent said they would support the new party being organized by the Koike camp -- although this was before she announced that she would be its leader.

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